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University gets strategic about diversity and inclusion

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Despite national recognition for its diversity and inclusion efforts, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette isn’t standing back to admire its work. It’s looking ahead with its Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence.

UL Lafayette was among 93 colleges and universities that recently received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. It’s the second straight year the University has been recognized. Dr. Taniecea Arceneaux Mallery, UL Lafayette’s executive director of Strategic Initiatives and chief diversity officer, said the award represents progress; the inclusive excellence plan provides a three-year guide to build on that progress.

It calls for developing policies and expanding educational and professional development resources that advance equity and inclusion, and for increasing engagement across campus and in the community. It also sets forth strategies for recruiting and hiring a diverse faculty, and increasing enrollment and retention among underrepresented students – including international students.

The plan was created based on recommendations from a Diversity Advisory Council comprised of 34 people from campus and from the community. Mallery said the overarching intent is to create a “campus-wide culture that fosters engagement across differences – differences in ethnicity, socioeconomic background, gender identity, age – any and all dimensions of diversity.”

“That kind of environment is as essential to student success as what’s taught in classrooms and research laboratories. Our graduates enter a world that’s very diverse,” she said.

A focus of the plan will be developing more ways to attract and retain undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups. One method will be by creating programs similar to the University’s Louisiana Educate Program. It was launched last year to retain academically-gifted, lower-income students by providing financial assistance funded by private gifts and supplemental grants from the University.

In a report released in 2017, the Brookings Institution named the University a national leader for providing access to higher education for lower-income students. The nonprofit public policy organization, based in Washington, D.C., ranked UL Lafayette No. 9 among four-year, public universities in the U.S. for promoting social mobility.

“We want to build on those kinds of successes, and the strategic plan is in place to help us do that. And engaging all corners of campus – especially students – is necessary for that to happen,” Mallery said.

The plan calls for forming a council of student leaders from different backgrounds that will make suggestions about campus programs and organizations. The council will “generate ideas for programs, initiatives and student organizations that will enable students to engage across cultures and with others who aren’t like them,” Mallery explained.

“A lot of our student organizations are built around commonalities. It’s natural to want to be able to find a community of people who have your same experiences and backgrounds, but inclusion challenges us to get outside of that comfort zone and engage with people who aren’t like us.”

The plan also outlines strategies for carrying diversity and inclusion beyond campus, with initiatives such as a certification program for business leaders and employees. Mallery envisions offering continuing education-style courses geared toward executives and human resources professionals who are interested in promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“The University has established itself as a leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. We are in a position to share what we’ve learned, and it’s our responsibility to bring education and resources to the community,” she said.

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at the University.

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